When seniors Nijal Pearson and Eric Terry took on Appalachian State in the quarterfinals of the Sun Belt Championship Tournament March 11, they thought it would be their final game in Strahan Arena. They didn’t know it would be the last game of their collegiate careers.
As the Bobcats were clinching their spot in the semifinals, the NBA postponed their season due to the coronavirus, or COVID-19. The NCAA tournament announced they would have a closed tournament but later canceled their tournament entirely. Come the next morning, the Sun Belt did the same, ending the semifinal and final rounds of the championship tournament in New Orleans.
For Pearson, it’s still difficult to grasp the premature end to his college career.
“It’s something that’s hard to get a grip on,” Pearson said. “It still feels surreal somewhat. Emotions everywhere, I’m sure everyone feels the same.”
Playing alongside Pearson, Terry played a big factor in the Bobcats’ run this season. Terry said it has been hard to come to terms with everything that has occurred over the past couple of days.
“As a senior, it’s your last time, your last go-around,” Terry said. “So for us to have it cut short was heartbreaking. We had aspirations and dreams of winning the Sun Belt tournament so it was tough to find out.”
The Bobcats were the No. 3 seed in the Sun Belt Tournament and had won five of their last six games. Pearson said that he was confident in the team’s ability to make it to the NCAA Tournament and said he’s disappointed that his goals could not be realized.
“It’s extremely difficult just to know that I gave my all for four years and my last shot, my last go-round (was canceled),” Pearson said. “We made it to the championship game my freshman year and we lost it, so I wanted to go out with a win.”
Despite the tournament’s cancellation, the Bobcats ended their season with a decisive 85-68 victory over the No. 6 Mountaineers. Strahan Arena hosted a Sun Belt tournament game for the first time in history as the Bobcats played in front of a mass of white-out fans that reached No. 2 in attendance records to finish their season.
Pearson said that the win was a good way to end the season despite not being what they wanted.
“That was important, it kind of ended on a good note,” Pearson said. “We won our last game, it was a fun atmosphere, it was a good game to play in (and) we had fun. It’s something to remember but it still hurts.”
Regarding the final game against Appalachian State, Terry said it was the best way to go out, in the current circumstances.
“It was a special way to go out,” Terry said. “If I could dream of a way to go out, that was it. To go out in front of thousands of fellow Bobcats, it put a little wrinkle in the fact that our season was cut short.”
With his college career behind him, there’s plenty of time for Pearson to think about his historic achievements in his four years at Texas State. This season, Pearson became the program’s all-time leading scorer, was the first Bobcat to have three consecutive 500-point seasons and put his name down as arguably the best basketball player in Texas State history.
Pearson said that he didn’t know he would reach the No. 1 spot but strove for greatness throughout his career.
“I wanted to do big things of course, I wanted to leave a mark and become the best basketball player I could become so to say that I didn’t see myself doing it would be kind of selling myself short,” Pearson said. “I wouldn’t say that I didn’t see myself doing it, I just gave it everything I had, and when I did do that, good results came with it.”
Terry averaged 8.4 points this season, including a 20-point game on Senior Night and a game-leading 30-point game in a triple-overtime thriller at UT Arlington. Terry said it was important for him to step up in the victories toward the end of the season.
“We were going through a stretch where we needed to win most of our games to get a double-bye or even a triple-bye,” Terry said. “I wouldn’t say this added pressure to myself, but I just knew I had to come up with some big games for the team in order to win.”
Pearson has always been focused on basketball and improvement. Social distancing means not much time for basketball and lots of time to think, Pearson said.
“It’s just so much downtime, I’m unsure what to do,” Pearson said. “I’ve been a basketball player my whole life. I’m just at home, waking up, doing things that I can but for the most part it’s thinking time. I’m just thinking about things I’m seeing in my future.”
This is an unprecedented time for sports as the world takes precautionary measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19. With programs, practices and gyms canceled, even the NBA draft is murky territory until the threat of the potentially deadly virus is erased.
Pearson said he is controlling what he can from home to maintain his strength as he prepares for the draft and his future.
“I’m working out in my house,” Pearson said. “I haven’t done many basketball workouts but I’m sure I’ll find a way pretty soon, just trying to work on what I can right now. Whenever they call me, I’m going to compete. I’m hoping things kind of blow over with the coronavirus so life can go on.”
As Terry finishes his last semester, he plans to continue playing basketball as well. Terry emphasized the importance of having a backup plan and said he would like to be a businessman someday and possibly own a restaurant.
Looking back, Terry and Pearson have both been with Texas State since 2016 and have left an impact during their tenure. Before 2016, Texas State hadn’t had a 20-win season since 1993. In the past four seasons, they have reached the 20-win mark three times, with two of the seasons including postseason appearances.
From long bus rides with teammates to Senior Night, Terry said there is a lot to take away from the season.
“The last couple months have been special,” Terry said. “There were some tough times but we each picked each other up. That is what made this group special.”
Both seniors played key roles in the improvement of the Texas State’s men’s basketball program, and Terry hopes that it doesn’t end with them. Terry said he is grateful to have made an impact alongside Pearson and hopes that the team and Head Coach Danny Kaspar will continue to succeed.
“I hope Nijal and I can have a domino effect with this program,” Terry said. “I hope they continue to have good seasons and even win the conference. I have confidence that Danny Kaspar can keep this rolling.”
The University Star’s COVID-19 coverage can be found here.